By Julie Renaud Evans
After 30 years of practicing both forestry and community planning in northern New England, I can confidently say that Community Forest projects are a great way for communities to meet a mix of conservation and community goals across ecology, economics, recreation, and education.
I remember in 2005 when the town of Errol, New Hampshire, was closely watching the changes in the forest industry, the strong real estate market, and also the growing interest in developing rural areas. A particularly astute town leader recognized the value 13 Mile Woods—then a privately owned property along NH Route 16 and the Androscoggin River—as a scenic gateway to the town. Today the town owns and manages that property as a Community Forest.
13 Mile Woods Community Forest is an important resource that provides annual revenue from sustainable timber management and attracts visitors to enjoy the 11-mile recreation trail within the property. Most importantly, this gateway to the town and all its special qualities are forever protected from development by a conservation easement held by the State of New Hampshire.
In another example, the residents of Milan, New Hampshire, were motivated to create a Community Forest by their concerns about the quality of forest management in the region and its potential long-term effect on local sawmills and other wood product companies. They wanted to acquire land to ensure that well-managed forests would forever supply timber to these industries. They also wanted to connect other protected forestland to achieve large-scale protection of wildlife habitat. Milan has secured the first 1,393 contiguous acres for its Community Forest (with a goal of 5,000 acres), which will be sustainably managed for timber products and provide important wildlife habitat.
In Canaan, Vermont, the community saw a Community Forest as a way to provide a dedicated outdoor classroom for high school students learning building and carpentry, natural resources, and business. Students built a sugarhouse and use the land to tap maple trees, produce and sell maple syrup, and learn about forest stewardship and logging. Canaan has increased student interest in its educational programs and met many educational goals by connecting the school programs to the Community Forest.
Each of these communities set out specific—but different—conservation and community goals. They acquired land as a Community Forest to protect wildlife habitat, to support local education programs, or strengthen their local economy by protecting a scenic resource or through sustainable forest management.
I often say that each Community Forest is as unique as the community itself, and every new project I get to work on proves my theory. What they all have in common, however, is the pride and immense satisfaction they generate by enabling a community to set big goals and achieve them through permanent ownership and stewardship of their forest. It’s a legacy that will serve all future generations of the town.